As a vegan, I have received a fair share of dodgy comments from my friends, friends of friends, parents of friends, but especially from the entirety of my meat-loving Turkish family.
As I child I was never fond of meat, especially mince, and had already managed to confuse my Mediterranean family whether I was genuinely related to them or not. The only meat I used to eat was barbecued lamb chops, boiled chicken (grandma’s speciality soup) and duck. I used to love these as a child. I guess I enjoyed it until I became aware of the shocking reality behind the meat industry and the suffering these animals went through just for me to excite my taste buds for a few minutes.
I remember the days when my family in Turkey used to rush around preparing hundreds of dishes for me to devour upon my arrival from London. They used to spend hours slow-cooking traditional meat-filled meals and present a huge variety of plates as they were “my favourite”..but they weren’t. Well, some of them were..mainly the mezze platters and vegetable dishes. Regardless of how many times I told them that I did not like meat, our conversations over the dinner table were the same every single time… “Basak, you have to try these meatballs! Just a tiny bit, please, for me, i’ll get so upset” “But I tried them last time aunty and I didn’t-” “but this time they’re different! you haven’t tried these ones!” It didn’t matter that I sulked as they force-fed me, they still did it. “I’m sorry I still don’t like it” “oh my, what!? How can you not like it? Who doesn’t like my speciality meatballs? Everyone loves meatballs. You’ve become so European”. Oh the good days. Notice how I didn’t say “good old days” because they’re not old. They’re current. Still present. Still happening. Still continuing..
The awkwardness of sitting there as a child rejecting the food that was oh so delicately and lovingly made was torturous. I always felt upset that my family had made such an effort for me and I refused to eat more than a few bites, but I just couldn’t. I also remember the days when Hatice used to force feed me salmon at least once a week because I hated fish and wouldn’t eat it if you paid me to. I always purposely left behind a huge lettuce leaf to cover the fishy evidence which had not been touched…but that stopped working after the third time.
Then I became a pescatarian. Don’t ask how that happened because I have no idea, but my love for fish just shot through the roof. Raw, cooked, steamed, boiled, baked, oysters, prawns, mussels, calamari, sardines, the works. I was crazy about fish and seafood. In fact at one point, when I was around 14 years old, I was diagnosed with high cholesterol and was banned from eating eggs or prawns for 2 months. Can you just imagine the amount I must have been eating? For my family my choice of diet was weird but still bearable. Eating out was fine because the fish and seafood in Turkey is just as popular as it’s meat culture, so there are just as many fish mongers as there are butchers, and just as many fish restaurants by the sea as there are barbecues and grills.
But then, I became a full vegetarian. Now this was super weird. Remember the quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding? “What you mean he don’t eat no meat?!….. It’s ok, I make lamb”. This was genuinely what my life had turned into. At least before a quick chicken soup would do the job, or force feeding meatballs was the norm, but now what? What the hell were they going to cook for me?! No meal is complete without a dead animal! The running around to cook Basak a welcome meal is still happening, but now it was because they had no idea what to cook….but then… rice! Basak loves rice. I do love rice. A nice Turkish rice goes perfectly with a a thick vegetable stew. But wait. Let’s still make the rice with chicken stock! She doesn’t eat meat but stock is okay its just a cube..of things..herbs..and some bones..maybe a feather or 2. Not once did it ever occur to anyone that a) chicken stock is still chicken, b) chicken is meat and c) chicken is still an animal that I do not eat. So this time the torture begins as the process of rejection moves from a lump of meat onto..rice.
How can I solve this? I know, i’m going to become a vegan! Now this really screwed everything and everyone up. It’s actually quite funny because the irritation of being asked the same questions almost every day by mainly the same people has started to turn into a laughing matter. At first, I was so agitated. I got so angry with everyone who asked me unnecessary and judgemental questions, I only wanted to speak to those with a genuine interest and curiosity towards the concept and reasoning behind becoming vegan. This still counts, however now I am much more open and have realised that ignorance and criticising others is just a part of the human race with I have to accept. I am a very talkative and passionate person who loves conversing about things which interest me, such as animal rights and the environment in this case. But those I cannot cope with people with no knowledge or education behind specific topics who feel that they can judge and fault without research or asking questions, purely based on their personal opinions. Yes, maybe the vegan lifestyle is not for you, maybe you’re addicted to cheese, maybe you can’t live without Ben & Jerry’s or a bar of Galaxy, and that’s fine if you want to turn a blind eye to reality, but don’t go telling me that animals don’t suffer, that these industries aren’t the leading factor for global warming or that vegan’s don’t live significantly longer than carnivores, because they do. Unless you’re a scientist with evidence that goes against all of the scientific evidence that has been present for many years, then I would prefer to discuss and educate rather than argue.
I guess what I’m trying to get through is that cultural and geographical differences really affect peoples mentality and understanding across a variety of topics. In this case, trying to explain the concept of vegetarianism and veganism to societies who are centred around a culture of meat and dairy is more than difficult and in many cases, impossible. No matter how frustrating this may be you’re always going to come across close minded people..but as the French say, “c’est la vie”..